Calcutta, Macao, Singapore, Lisbon, etc. Most of these movies are great entertainment and most of them fit at least peripherally into one of my all-time favourite sub-genres - tropical noir. Tropical noir was a very big thing at the time, with movies like The Bribe and Hell’s Half Acre.
If you want to be picky some of thee movies might be better described as tropical melodramas or tropical adventure melodramas. I don’t mind how you classify them, if a movie was made at that time and it has a tropical setting (or any kind of similar exotic setting) then it’s a movie I want to see.
Which brings us to Saigon, released by Paramount in 1947 and starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake (who were at that time just about the hottest leading man-leading lady combo in Hollywood).
To finance all this fun Briggs accepts a flying job from a shady character named Maris. Since the pay is $10,000 for one flight the job can’t be honest but Briggs wants that money to give his friend a couple of months of high living. Maris is supposed to be the passenger but when the plane takes off there’s a different passenger aboard - Maris’s glamorous secretary (played by Veronica Lake of course). Maris himself didn’t make the flight and Briggs figures that the flurry of gunshots they heard just before takeoff may be the reason for that.
They decide to head for Saigon but the plane doesn’t make it. They end up in a paddy field in Indo-China. It’s not too bad, nobody was hurt, they make it to a nearby town and put up in a hotel. The fly in the ointment is a policeman, Lieutenant Keon (Luther Adler). Keon is one of those very civilised very polite very friendly cops who gives the impression he might be rather good at his job. He’s very interested in these new arrivals in his territory and he seems particularly interested in Susan.
Alan Ladd is perfectly cast as Briggs, a tough guy with a sensitive side but a tough guy all the same. Susan is obviously set up to be the femme fatale and that’s the sort of thing Veronica Lake could do quite competently. Of course Susan might not be a femme fatale. She could be an innocent dupe. Or she could have become involved in something a bit dubious and then gotten in deeper than she’d intended. Lake plays the part with enough ambiguity to keep us interested. And of course, as always, there’s some heat between Ladd and Lake. It could be love, it could be lust, it could be hate, it could be all three. Luther Adler has fun as the ever-smiling Lieutenant Keon.
This is not an easy movie to track down. I found an Italian DVD which includes the English soundtrack (with removable Italian subtitles). The transfer isn’t fantastic but it’s acceptable. This Italian disc appears to be the only DVD release the film has had. I was involved in an interesting discussion recently on Riding the High Country about tropical noir and the difficulty of getting to see some of the key movies in that genre, including this one.
Saigon has plenty of hothouse tropical atmosphere and it has a few definite noir touches. It’s not a great film, Fenton’s direction is lacklustre and it suffers a little from being in effect two films at once - a sentimental romantic melodrama and a noirish thriller. It’s just a tad disjointed. But it looks great and Ladd and Lake, in their final pairing, are good enough to carry the film through a few weak spots. Recommended.
Monday, October 25, 2021
Thursday, October 21, 2021
Audrey Bedford (Maureen Swanson) has just been released from Holloway after serving nine months for her part in a jewel robbery. She was framed. Even the cop who arrested her, Inspector Shannon (Ronald Howard), thought she was innocent but the jury unfortunately disagreed.
There’s already a slightly sinister atmosphere creeping in. Malpas is a very strange guy who is clearly up to no good. In fact we get the impression that he’s some kind of criminal mastermind. His house is very spooky, festooned with cobwebs but with doors that open automatically. Nobody ever gets to see his face.
And why is everybody so interested in Audrey?
Maureen Swanson makes a likeable heroine. She had a brief career in film before marrying into the aristocracy. Ronald Howard and Allan Cuthbertson were very reliable actors as was Geoffrey Keen and it’s no surprise that all give fine performances. Sandra Dorne was another starlet who never really made the big time although she was kept by with television work in the 50s and 60s. Her performance is quite solid.
The White Trap (1959) and the terrific gothic horror film Night of the Eagle (1962) so he really should have had a better career.
The script (by Paul Tabori and Gordon Wellesley) is more than serviceable enough to keep things interesting.
From the late 40s to the early 60s it seemed like the British just couldn’t make a bad mystery thriller. Some very better than others, some were absolutely superb but even the lesser examples were pretty good. This is one of the better examples. It has the classic Edgar Wallace feel with plenty of devious twists and everyone up to something mysterious or shady.
Network have as usual provided an excellent anamorphic black-and-white transfer, without any extras on the disc.
The Malpas Mystery should please Edgar Wallace fans and it should also please fans of British mystery/crime B-pictures. Highly recommended.
Wednesday, October 20, 2021
You can read my full review on Cult Movie Reviews here.
Friday, October 15, 2021
The story, as told in this movie version, is the story of bootlegger Jay Gatsby (Alan Ladd). Gatsby was born penniless and clawed his way to the top in the rackets. Now he’s fabulously wealthy and has just bought a palatial home on Long Island. And he’s spent a fortune turning it into a display case for his wealth. Gatsby’s motivation is simple. During the First World War he fell in love with a girl named Daisy. They were to be married but by the time he returned from the war she had married Tom Buchanan. Tom Buchanan is immensely wealthy and he is Old Money, with impeccable social credentials.
The best moment in the film has Gatsby showing off his possessions to Daisy, firmly convinced that she will be convinced that he now has both wealth and class. But of course he doesn’t really have class at all. All he succeeds in doing is demonstrating his vulgarity. But he’s like an excited little boy and it’s a rare moment in the film with real emotional punch.
The real tragedy is that Daisy is just not worth it. She’s shallow and selfish and she married Tom Buchanan to attain money and social position. She’s a more reprehensible social climber than Gatsby - Gatsby is at least driven by love, however misguided and unrealistic that love may be.
The best thing about this version is Alan Ladd as Gatsby. Gatsby has to be played as a man with superficial sophistication but we have to be able to see the tough guy underneath. He has to be good-looking. He has to be sexy. He has to be emotionally immature but we have to know that the emotion is real. Ladd fought tooth and nail with Paramount to land this rôle which is odd because he was always the obvious choice and he nails it perfectly.
Macdonald Carey is passable but a bit dull as Nick Carroway, a man both repelled by and fascinated by Gatsby. Barry Sullivan is stiff and uninteresting as Tom Buchanan. Ruth Hussey is at least lively and entertaining as Nick’s love interest, the ruthless shallow Jordan. Shelley Winters is permanently overwrought and rather irritating as Tom’s mistress.
The weak point is Betty Field’s whiny thin performance as Daisy. It’s impossible to imagine any man willing to devote his life to such a vacuous female.
I love the poster used as the cover for the Australian DVD release - Gatsby in a trench coat and fedora, surrounded by dangerous dames. It promises guns, girls, gangsters and two-fisted action. There is of course no two-fisted action but there are guns, there are dangerous dames and Gatsby is a gangster.
In fact if you forget the idea of the movie as an adaptation of the novel and treat it as film noir it just about works, thanks to Ladd’s performance and the moody cinematography of John F. Seitz. Elliott Nugent’s unfocused direction and Betty Field’s dismal performance prevent it from being great film noir but it just about makes it as average film noir.
Despite its flaws it’s an interesting movie and for that reason it’s recommended.
Saturday, October 9, 2021
You won’t be surprised to learn that the movie has very little (in fact almost nothing) to do with the original story Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (which is of course one of the tales of the Arabian Nights). The movie turns the pauper Ali Baba into the son of the Caliph of Baghdad and it turns the band of cut-throats, thieves and murderers into courageous freedom fighters against the evil Mongols (who do not appear in the original story at all). This allows the writers to add some clumsy wartime propaganda about the crusade for freedom and democracy.
So instead Ali (renamed Ali Baba by the thieves) persuades the thieves to join him in freeing the land from the wicked Mongols, thus ensuring that freedom will triumph.
Ten years later Ali Baba (now played by Jon Hall) is the de facto leader of the band of thieves and freedom fighters.
Amara is Arabian and secretly hates the Mongols and of course she doesn’t want to marry Hulagu. Her father (the treacherous brother of the murdered Caliph) has forced her into it.
There are usual adventures and complications that you expect in a swashbuckler, with Ali and Amara not recognising each at first and not realising that they are destined to be together, no matter the cost.
Director Arthur Lubin handles the action scenes reasonably well. The film slows down a little in the middle.
I must say that I’m very fond of Maria Montez. No-one is going to claim she’s a great actress but she has the fieriness and the exotic beauty to be perfect for this sort of rôle in this sort of film. Montez was Spanish (although born in the Dominican Republic) but that wan’t going to deter Hollywood from casting her as an Arabian princess. Spanish, Arabian - it was all the same to Hollywood. And in a way they were right. What they needed was an actress who could be exotic and Montez could do that with ease.
This movie reunites Montez with Jon Hall, her co-star in Arabian Nights (also an excellent adventure flick) and Cobra Woman (which is great fun). He’s not Errol Flynn or Tyrone Power but he was OK as a cut-price adventure hero and it’s Montez’s star power that carries the movie anyway (and yes, in this genre she really did have a certain star power).
I should mention that the opening credits are done in a very clever way.
My copy of the movie is the old Universal Backlot Series DVD which looks very good. There are now both US and UK Blu-Ray releases which I’m sure look even better.
Personally I prefer Arabian Nights with its more interesting visuals and its fairytale atmosphere. Montez also starred in the extremely interesting Siren of Atlantis which is also a bit more interesting than this one.
Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves is still a well-mounted second-tier swashbuckler. Recommended.
Thursday, October 7, 2021
Joseph Foster (Thomas Mitchell) is a crusading do-gooder District Attorney who has been trying for years to nail a racketeer named Hanson. Now a mysterious stranger who calls himself Nick Beal (Ray Milland) offers him the chance to do it. It will involve a slightly illegal act but it’s all in a good cause and bending the rules just this once in order to convict a ruthless gangster can surely be morally justified.
Foster’s sanctimonious political cronies are so impressed by his success in convicting Hanson that they decide he’d be an ideal candidate for governor. The state needs honest men like Joseph Foster. Men who will never compromise on principles. Even though Foster has just compromised his principles.
Very very early on you will have figured out that this is an updating of the Faust legend, done in the film noir visual style. Maybe it seemed at the time to be a clever idea - a man selling his soul to the Devil in return for worldly power would seem to be something that would work in the context of 20th century politics. This is however the dullest stodgiest most ham-fisted version of the Faust legend that could possibly be imagined.
Donna Allen is an uninteresting cardboard cut-out character. Audrey Totter was a great actress but this script gives her nothing to work with. She just doesn’t come across as a real person. Totter has some good moments but overall gives a confused and disjointed performance.
Ray Milland is fun as the Devil (it’s clear from the start that Nick Beal is the Devil, or rather he’s presumably Mephistopheles) but it’s a rather obvious performance.
The supporting players are uniformly awful. George Macready as Foster’s preacher buddy does little other than deliver dialogue in the form of sermons.
One positive thing I can say about this movie is that Lionel Lindon’s cinematography (heavily reliant on shrouding everything in fog) is effectively moody. And Donna’s apartment is a great set. It really looks like Lucifer took up interior decorating.
Franz Waxman’s score is bombastic.
The ending will have you wanting to hurl a brick through the screen.
I can see why the material appealed to hyper-religious director John Farrow, but he was probably the wrong director. The movie ends up being a simplistic morality tale with everything painted in black and white.
Kino Lorber’s DVD (there’s a Blu-Ray version as well) offers a nice transfer and there’s an audio commentary by Eddie Muller. An interesting bit of trivia that he offers is that Farrow turned down the chance to direct The Great Gatsby in order to do this movie.
This is not even remotely a film noir. A few night scenes and lots of fog does not make a film noir.
While there was some potential in the idea Alias Nick Beal ends up being a serious misfire and I cannot in all conscience recommend it.
Saturday, October 2, 2021
Edmond O’Brien is Bob Regan, a struggling lawyer who is hired by wealthy industrialist Andrew Colby (Vincent Price). Why would a rich man like Colby want to hire a cheap lawyer, and more to the point why would he want to hire a lawyer as a bodyguard?
He claims to need a bodyguard because a former business associate, an old guy named Kroner, is just out of prison and nursing a grudge against him. Kroner was convicted of selling counterfeit bonds.
It soon turns out that Colby really did need that bodyguard, and it’s lucky that Regan is handy with a gun.
Regan still finds time to romance Colby’s private secretary, Noel Faraday (Ella Raine). Noel is beautiful, self-assured and very very classy. She’s about a million miles out of Bob Regan’s league. She is also very obviously Colby’s mistress. So it’s strange that Colby isn’t bothered by Regan’s attempt to romance her. Which is odd, since Colby is not the sort of man who would tolerate his woman playing around. He paid good money for her and she’s his property. Regan isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer and he has no idea of exactly what he’s getting himself into.
Edmond O’Brien was ideal as the kind of noir protagonist who is basically a nice guy who’s gotten seriously out of his depth. In other words, a good-natured chump. This was a breakthrough role for him, proving he had what it takes to be a leading man.
William Bendix is of course quite competent at playing a cop.
Ella Raines often played the good girl in noirs but this is more of a femme fatale role and she seems to relish it (as most actresses do). She’s smooth and silky and sexy and you get the idea that she’s probably dangerous to handle. Whether she’s really a femme fatale in this case is something you’ll have to watch the movie to find out. It’s a nicely ambiguous performance.
Kino Lorber’s DVD offers an excellent transfer and an audio commentary track (they’ve also released this title on Blu-Ray).
Whether The Web is a true film noir or not is another thing you’ll have to watch the movie to find out. It certainly has plenty of classic noir elements and touches of noir visual style.
The Web is a rather nifty little movie, part film noir and part melodrama. Highly recommended.